Time to retire the Stagecoach

One of my very favourite writers and thinkers about education is Seymour Papert. I really like his views on the ways in which schools need to change.

It cannot be incremental, it as to be revolutionary.

I get very frustrated when I hear teachers talk about the way technology can be used to “improve” teaching. It’s not about “improving” teaching. The fact is that the model of schooling which we blindly accept as a given is rooted in 19th century methodology, but the world has changed so dramatically that it’s not a matter of introducing a few computers and doing the same old things. We have to start doing new things, not old things in new ways.

One of Papert’s articles likens education to an old fashioned stagecoach, and talks about the ways in which a stagecoach could be improved. Although stagecoaches were an effective means of transportation in their day, as a means of transport they can certainly be improved upon. He muses on the idea of strapping a jet engine to a stagecoach as a way to improve its performance – in much the same way we tinker with adding technology into our outdated curriculum and thinking they will somehow magically improve things. Like the jet engine on the stagecoach, we need to do more than just add on some new technology to an old system. We need to design a whole new jet airplane, not add a jet engine to a stagecoach.

You can read the entire article here.

I particularly resonated with the notion that the early airplanes were still not as effective in their day as an old fashioned stagecoach. Some people say the same thing about education today – “we added computers to our classrooms but nothing really changed”.

But as Papert observes…

“… You have to stop trying to improve the functioning of the old system. Instead lay down the seeds for something new. Maybe this will result in decreased performance according to the traditional measures. Remember that the first airplanes were not so good as stagecoaches as means for getting around. But they were destined to revolutionize transportation…”

It’s about time for that revolution.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Time to retire the Stagecoach by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.